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Six Easter-inspired Italian phrases explained

The Italian language is laden with Easter-related expressions, and some can be used all year round. Here are six of our favourites.

Six Easter-inspired Italian phrases explained
Italians often say you can spend Easter with whoever you like. Photo: Paige Cody/Unsplash

Easter is a key event on the national calendar in overwhelmingly Catholic Italy’s calendar. So perhaps it’s not surprising that sayings related to the occasion feature so heavily in the language.

Bonus points if you manage to drop any of these into conversation at Easter lunch with Italian friends or family.

1. Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi

This phrase means that there’s an expectation you should spend Christmas (Natale) with family, but Easter (Pasqua) can be celebrated with whoever you want to spend it with.

This is especially the case for Pasquetta (“Little Easter”) or Easter Monday, which is usually a day for a barbecue or a trip to the seaside with friends.

Although, let’s face it, it’s tough to refuse invitations from all the relatives and this phrase might not get you out of yet another big family occasion.

2. Felice come una Pasqua

Here is one of those phrases that doesn’t make sense if you literally translate it into English: “Happy as Easter”.

You can get the sense though, which is that someone is really happy. You could translate it as, “Happy as Larry”. Easter signifying pure joy comes from marking the end of Lent. Fasting and repentance of sins are over – now is the time for cheerfulness, springtime, travel and brighter days to come.

READ ALSO: 12 signs you’ve cracked the Italian language

As happy as Easter. Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

3. Lungo come una Quaresima

Speaking of Lent, this Italian expression describes a period that seems to drag on forever.

It literally means, “As long as Lent”, which lasts 40 days in the run up to Easter and involves plenty of praying and the giving up of vices – or, nowadays, what we’d probably think of as treats.

You may see the similarity between this word and “quarantena” (quarantine), which stems from the Italian word “quaranta” (forty). That was the number of days people had to stay in isolation in times of the Black Plague.

4. Quando Pasqua verrà il 25 aprile

Speaking of waiting for the impossible to happen, this phrase describes an extremely rare event, such as the English expression, “Pigs might fly”.

It literally means, “When Easter comes on April 25th”.

But what’s so significant about that date?

In the Gregorian calendar, this is the date least likely to be Easter and so denotes an unusual occurrence. Legend has it that God made a promise to the devil that he could enter paradise if Easter ever fell on April 25th.

Pasqua bassa (short Easter) – if Easter falls between March 22nd and April 2nd In fact, Italians split Easter dates into three categories:

Pasqua media (medium Easter) – if Easter falls between April 3rd and April 13th 
Pasqua alta (tall Easter) – if Easter falls between April 14th and April 25th

READ ALSO: The top ten Italian words that just don’t translate into English

Eating another Italian lunch is a cross to bear. Photo: Aaron Burden/Unsplash

5. Portare la propria croce

This Italian phrase means “to carry one’s own cross”, just as Jesus is believed to have done in Holy Week. You might say in English that we “have a cross to bear”.

We can infer, therefore, that someone is dealing with a lot of pain and experiencing tough times if they use this phrase.

6. Le pulizie di Pasqua

Time to banish the drab and all that no longer serves you. Le pulizie di primavera, or ‘Easter cleaning’

Much like in ‘spring cleaning’, as we’d say in English, it means Easter is time for saying goodbye to the old and welcoming the new.

Even though cleaning is almost akin to a national sport in Italy, this is a time for even more meticulous washing – it’s a representation of change and a transition from winter to spring.

One saying goes: “L’olivo benedetto vuol trovar pulito e netto”, which means, “The blessed olive tree wants to find things clean and clear”.

Which makes it sound as though, in Italy, even the trees are judging the state of your kitchen.

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Italian expression of the day: ‘Qualcosa non torna’

Does this phrase add up to you?

Italian expression of the day: 'Qualcosa non torna'

Ever get the feeling that things aren’t quite right, that perhaps you’re missing something, that something fishy might be going on?

In Italian you can express that with the phrase qualcosa non torna (‘qual-KOH-zah-non-TORR-na’).

Qualcosa you’ll probably recognise as meaning ‘something’, and non of course here means ‘doesn’t’, so the slight wild card for anglophones is the verb torna.

That’s because tornare means ‘to return’ in most contexts – but it can also mean to balance, to add up.

Ho calcolato le spese, il conto torna.
I added up the costs, the bill checks out.

I conti dell’azienda tornano.
The company’s accounts add up.

The Math Seems To Check Out! GIF - The House Will Ferrell The Math Seems To Check Out GIFs

The word can also refer more nebulously to something sounding or feeling right – or not.

Secondo me c’è qualche parte del mio discorso che ancora non torna.
I think there are parts of my speech that still aren’t quite right.

And when something doesn’t torna – that’s when you know things are off. It’s the kind of expression you’re likely to hear in detective shows or true crime podcasts. 

Qualcosa non torna nel loro racconto.
Something about their story’s off.

C’è solo una cosa che non torna.
There’s just one thing that doesn’t add up.

It’s similar to how we can talk in English about someone’s account of an event not ‘squaring’ with the facts, and in fact you can also use that metaphor in Italian – qualcosa non quadra (‘qual-KOH-zah-non-QUAHD-ra’) – to mean the same thing as qualcosa non torna.

Trash Italiano Simona Ventura GIF - Trash Italiano Simona Ventura Qualcosa Non Quadra GIFs

You can adjust either phrase slightly to say ‘things don’t add up’, in the plural: this time you’ll want le cose instead of qualcosa, and to conjugate the tornare or the quadrare in their plural forms.

Ci sono molte cose che non tornano in quest’affare.
There are a lot of things about this affair that don’t add up.

Le loro storie non quadrano.
Their stories don’t square.

You can also add pronouns into the phrase to talk about something seeming off ‘to you’ or anyone else.

La sua storia ti torna?
Does his story add up to you?

C’è qualcosa in tutto questo che non mi torna.
There’s something about all this that doesn’t seem right to me.

alfonso qualcosa non mi torna GIF by Isola dei Famosi

The next time something strange is afoot, you’ll know just how to talk about it in Italian. Montalbano, move aside…

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.